When you travel abroad, people often warn you for the ‘culture shock’ you might experience. But nobody tells you about how it might be when you come home after being abroad for a long time. The ‘culture shock’ when coming home. When I came back from almost 3 months in Nepal, it hit me hard.
What is a ‘culture shock’? According to the Wikipidia, this is the definition: Culture shock is an experience a person may have when one moves to a cultural environment which is different from one’s own; it is also the personal disorientation a person may feel when experiencing an unfamiliar way of life due to immigration or a visit to a new country, a move between social environments, or simply transition to another type of life.
I think there isn’t a fixed definition for this, because it is such a personal experience – so, different for everyone. I believe that you can have ‘culture shocks’ in different ways and sizes. The word ‘shock’ makes it sound so dramatic, but it doesn’t have to be.
Going abroad – Nepal
When I travelled to Nepal, I’m not quite sure if I experienced a real ‘culture shock’, but who’s to say? I can say that I was very tired the first two weeks. Kathmandu is very chaotic and busy and as a high sensitive person, I experienced way too many incentives. It took me some time to get used to the new life I would live for the coming 11 weeks. So maybe you can call it a ‘culture shock’ indeed. (Once again, what’s a definition?) But the long flight (which is exhausting) and the fact that I had been constantly busy before I left, probably added to that feeling of tiredness. Otherwise, I simply enjoyed all the new experiences, the sights and this new country. I loved it and was so excited to have another adventure of this size. I lived in China for three months in 2011 and I always said that I wanted to experience living in a new place again. And here it was. It didn’t feel like the ‘move’ to Nepal had such a big impact on me… However, how different that was when I came back to Belgium.
Culture shock at home
I did not expect the transition of coming home to be so hard. Thinking about home in Nepal meant thinking about the persons I missed. Belgian life however seemed to fade away. I remember thinking about my room and about the Belgian streets but it all felt so vague and surreal. It thought it incredulous that both worlds, Nepal & Belgium, existed on the same planet. The rules – even though the difference is so small sometimes – are so different in both countries. Some things are so normal in Nepal and you could not imagine them happening in Belgium, or the other way around. Ofcourse, rationally, I was very aware that everything would still be there, the way I left it – but it did not feel that way.
Am I really here?
Honestly, I could talk about all the differences that I experienced and I will, for a bit – but what was so difficult is that for a long time, I did not feel very present. I was very tired after being awake for around 30 hours and even after a lot of sleep, I felt like I lived in a haze. Everything felt so overwhelming and not doing anything at all was more than enough.
I revelled in the luxury that coming home meant. Warm water, a bathtub, heating inside*, the supermarkets, the speed of cars**, the richness. (You can read about all the adjustments of coming home here.) But I also missed the Nepalese streets, which were so alive. But most of all, I felt misplaced. So much had changed, for me/in me and here I was, back again in the same world that I left – with no change. Talking about Nepal was so difficult – how can you formulate 3 months in a story?
Telling the story
I don’t know why, but it took some time for me to let the impact and story of Nepal to sink in. I still do not understand why, but I guess those 3 months were so significant to me and that’s why it’s sometimes so difficult to wrap my head around it. Not a day goes by that I do not think back about the kids in the home and the whole experience keeps crossing my mind. All the pictures and video material have been on my laptop and I have barely looked at it since I came back. Only a few days ago, I took the time to watch every picture I took and it moved me so much. I look forward to do something with everything this experience got me and I hope I can share some more images with you – because, to be honest I’m also quite proud of my photographs. I’ll probably share a few, but a lot of it is personal.
Coming home, being home
I don’t know what made my feeling change, but after 3 weeks at home, I started to feel as if I was present in my (Belgian) life again. I am very happy that I gave myself some rest after coming home – and, at the same time, I’m glad that I also planned a few things as well. It’s the combination of resting and doing that made me feel me again. It’s strange how coming back can be so impactful, but that’s how it was. I met someone recently, who also travels a lot and for longer periods of time, and he said that the best thing is to not stay still for too long. And that’s what I did. I started working right after the holidays (less than two weeks after my return home) and my Belgian life got back on track by living it again.
Nepal thaught me many things and there’s so much I took home with me (post to follow) and even though I’m still exactly who I am, I also am not anymore. I’m so grateful for what this experience gave me.
PS: To make clear, I was also very happy to be back home again. I missed so many people, especially my boyfriend and it was so good to return to all that again. But it’s never so black and white. And if I’m honest, I would’ve stayed longer in Nepal, if he would have been by my side (which is a good thing – thank you so much, Michiel for all that we have together).
* In Nepal, most people don’t have any heating. The climate is (in the capital, I’m not speaking for the countryside) warmer than in Belgium, but in the evenings it still got cold, around 7°C, so the home and the appartment always grew cold the moment the sun disappeared. I went to bed earlier because that was simply the easiest way to stay warm. And inside, you walk around in warm clothes and sit down with a blanket. In Belgium we keep out the outdoor climate. In my opinion, heating is a good thing, but seriously, we should not be able to walk around in T-shirts at home when it’s cold outside. Turn the heating down a notch and put on something warmer.
** In Nepal, the cars move quite slow – this is mostly due to the bad condition of the roads. I think the fastest was around 50km/h. It’s been more than 3 months since I’m back and the cars still go to fast for me!